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Smart Cities for elderly people by Elena Villalba

Smart Cities for elderly people by Elena Villalba
Smart Cities for elderly people by Elena Villalba

Elena Villalba, Assistant Professor at Technical University of Madrid and Senior Researcher at the Center for Biomedical Tecnhnology, was in MSC to give us a special class about elderly people necessities in the Smart Cities of the future.

With 11 years of experience in eHealth, Elena has participated in 13 international research projects funded by the European Commission. Her deep knowledge has given her a different perspective about this collective and its role in society.

There are two converging global challenges: In one hand, we have lots of people living in urban areas, so we need to create smarter cities for them. But in the other hand, they are becoming old. So, in the course of time, we are going to have many aged people living in urban areas. According to Villalba: “In the future, we will need professionals who can be good in both functions: managing the city and knowing which the preferences of these particular elderly people are”.

Anyhow, which are the necessities of older people in this new urban environment?

We should begin by building houses adapted for them. Best examples are located in the north of Europe, like the city of Odense (Denmark). There, they have smart buildings prepared for older people. Furthermore, these buildings are integrated in neighbourhoods that are also smart. Thus, elderly people are not living alone at their homes, suffering isolation. On the opposite, they actively participate in society.

There are many more examples but, for now, most of them are just projects. There is a World Health Organization (WHO) program called “Age Friendly Cities”. It is an open web page, where you can review several cities that are developing specific programs for elderly people in health, transportation, social inclusion…

This is a great challenge, and we are going to need multidisciplinary teams to overcome it. We need architects to make buildings adapted to the people and their requirements, experts in communication and IoT, education professionals, specialists in cultural activities to maintain people active… And we are going to need people to be in the middle of all this. The best example is MCS students, professionals coming from very different backgrounds, but that have specific education in Smart Cities.

There are plenty of things to change, but what is most important is to know elderly people necessities. Public transportation, for instance, is not adapted for them: Sometimes the bus stop is not accessible, or buses do not have enough seats reserved for old people… Also, we have to realise that that they are slower. When they open the door in the bus, this door will be opened just for ten seconds, and they could need more time to get out.

We are putting lots of technology on the table, but we are not adapting that technology to older people. In Madrid, if you need to go to the doctor, you have two appointment options: by telephone or through the Internet. But elderly people prefer face to face communication. So, technology can be a solution, but it can be also a problem. We have to fill the gap, and only City Sciences and Smart City professionals will be prepared for that.

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